Dan Kleinman is the man behind the SafeLibraries campaign, which opposes the American Library Association’s intellectual freedom efforts regarding challenged books in school libraries and classrooms. From Dan’s point of view, as many know, ALA is responsible for exposing children to sexually inappropriate materials. Dan agreed to an interview, which we conducted on Facebook chat. The interview follows, typos included:
RL: Hi, Dan, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed.
DK: Hi Rory, thanks.
RL: Also, I’d like to thank you for sending me the powerpoint to the talk you gave recently, which was sponsored by a local Tea Party group. In your talk, you shared a quotation from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War that I found very interesting, about how the key to winning a battle is knowing your enemy. This was the reason you gave for talking so much about ALA and the ACLU. There’s something I want to ask you about regarding that.
In talking about ALA, you accuse them of a lot of pretty bad things, including advising librarians to promote inappropriate materials, plagiarizing on a regular basis, whitewashing rape and blaming the victims, aiding and abetting pedophiles, wanting children to access pornography, and I could go on. In my experience in ALA, all of this is far from the truth. But even if it were, I think that in terms of “knowing the enemy” there is something missing, which is the motivation. So I wanted to ask you, what do you think ALA’s motivation is in all of this? Do you think we are all sex perverts or something?
DK: Setting aside the ALA’s OIF, the ALA is an outstanding organization and I included that in my talk. And I’ll be happy to talk anywhere–it’s just that a tea party was the first to invite me and follow through. I was previously invited to speak at a senior citizen’s center but it never happened.
As to the OIF, it is not so much that I accuse them of that. What I am really doing is reporting what they are actually doing and linking to the sources where people can see this for themselves.
As to the “sex perverts” issue, no, I do not think the OIF is motivating in that regard in any way.
RL: In your talk you do refer to the villain as the ALA, but we can talk about the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom if you prefer. Still, I wonder what you think their motivation is in doing what you say they have done?
DK: I was asked that very question by the media. I have no response for that. I simply do not know why the OIF wants children to access inappropriate material. As Will Manley puts it,
“the library profession is the only profession in the world that wants children to have access to pornography.” http://safelibraries.blogspot.com/2011/05/will-manley-outs-library-profession-as.html
Perhaps ask Will the same question.
RL: Okay… Staying on the same theme of motivation, I am interested in knowing more about you, and how you got into this campaign. Could you talk a bit about that?
DK: I detail how I got into this here: http://safelibraries.blogspot.com/2011/07/porn-and-sex-abuse-in-our-public.html
Basically, my kindergartner got an inappropriate book that was recommended by the ALA and given her by an ALA member librarian.
I began to investigate why and I haven’t stopped since.
RL: What was the book?
DK: Mangaboom, by Charlotte Pomerantz. It won a Caldecott Award.
RL: one sec, I’d like to look it up.
DK: Okay. In the meantime, I brought the book to the principal. SHE said the book was TWICE as bad as what I reported and SHE removed it from the library. I did not ask her to remove the book. She did that on her own.
RL: I just read the descriptions on the Amazon page for the book, and it doesn’t give any warning about inappropriate material. One of the books is from School Library Journal (not a part of ALA), and the other is from Booklist (which does come from ALA). Neither of these reviews indicates that there is anythign controversial in them. Two questions. First, what about the book is bad? And second, do you have an issue with Amazon for recommending the book to Kindergarten-age kids?
(By the way, Dan, just so that there is no question of unfairness, when I publish this interview I am going to leave in all the typos and mistakes.)
DK: She went skinny dipping on a blind date with three guys. Ooh la la, she said in a lusty voice. It had text like that.
As to book reviews, they are misleading. Again, that is not an accusation, rather, that is something I am reporting merely as the messenger. In this case, a school administrator said this:
“School Excoriates Book Reviews that Fail to Disclose ‘Graphic Sexual Details’ in Books for Children; Lush by Natasha Friend is ‘Wildly Inappropriate’ for Certain Children” http://safelibraries.blogspot.com/2010/12/school-excoriates-book-reviews-that.html
RL: Do you think there is honest disagreement about what is appropriate for kids of different ages?
And if Mangaboom is so inappropriate for kids, why do you think these major reviewers would be so irresponsible as to leave out any warning? Do you think they also are intentionally trying to expose children to sexually inappropriate materials?
DK: By the way, no book is “bad.” Bad books is not the issue. I support authors writing whatever they like, and my blog evidences that. The problem is the OIF’s actions vis-a-vis certain books.
As to whether there is honest disagreement, one merely needs look at the ALA to say yes. Regarding the book Push, by Sapphire, the ALA said the book was right for all ages on one ALA page (Teen Hoopla), and said the book was only for 11th graders and up on another ALA page. So the ALA disagrees with itself, and the ALA is in favor of “banning” the book from kids in 10th grade and below.
Would you like me to get the ala pages for you to prove this?
As to the Mangaboom issue you raise, it never even occurred to me what you are suggesting regarding publishers and/or major reviewers. Now that you are asking, no, they are not intentionally trying to expose children to sexually inappropriate materials.
RL: Okay, so then, why do you think they are so much less concerned about this issue than you are?
DK: Publishers? Reviewers? Why are they less concerned than me? I don’t know. They are not the problem.
RL: Okay, I’ll ask the same question regarding librarians (ALA member-librarians). Why do you think we are so much less concerned?
DK: Again, ALA member librarians are not the problem. The OIF is the problem. And the way the OIF enforces its diktat is the problem. See, for example, “3 Ways to Get Blackballed in the Library Profession,” by Will Manley, Will Unwound, #428, 26 April 2011. http://willmanley.com/2011/04/26/will-unwound-428-3-ways-to-get-blackballed-in-the-library-profession/
“Perhaps the most career limiting move that you could make in the library profession is to refuse to toe the line with the anything goes philosophy of the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom.”
Again, Rory, I’m not accusing. I’m merely the messenger pointing out what others are saying. Then I have the nerve to speak about it.
By the way, I used to be an ALA member and only dropped out simply because I could no longer afford to remain a member.
RL: I find it curious that you should say that the publishers and reviewers of these books are not the problem, when these books are published for kids.
Authors, too, of course.
And I will just add as a bit of information – in my experience in ALA, the vast majority of members support what the Office for Intellectual Freedom does. In fact, if they didn’t support it, they would change it, since it is a member-controlled organization.
But there is genuine disagreement about these books, including within ALA, certainly.
As for pointing out what others are saying, I have not heard anyone else say that ALA OIF is guilty of “advising librarians to promote inappropriate materials,” “plagiarizing on a regular basis,” “whitewashing rape and blaming the child victim,” “aiding and abetting pedophiles,” etc.
DK: As to authors? They can and should write whatever they like without any limitation at all.
Publishers and reviewers can do a better job in providing such information, true, but their job is to sell books, and they are selling books, and salesmen generally don’t announce the warts, so I see no problem with salesman selling books.
The problem is the OIF. It advises, correctly, that parents are responsible for book selection. At the same time, it makes recommendations for parents that do not provide accurate information. So when those parents actually do get involved, and when they trust the ALA for a list of reading material, they end up being misled, and, for example, their 12 year old ends up reading a graphic description of oral sex.
RL: Did your 12 year old read a graphic description of oral sex?
Sorry, that is was an unfair question.
Of course not – you are very careful about what your child is exposed to. That is very clear.
DK: If others are not reporting on the ALA’s misdeeds, that is not my fault. I admit I am on the leading edge in this regard.
Sometimes, however, people do finally say what I have been noting. I have been noting, for example, that Banned Books Week is propaganda. Recently, you yourself made the same observation, likely for a different reason, but the same observation nevertheless. http://libraryjuicepress.com/blog/?p=3019
RL: I do have a problem with Banned Books Week, but you’re right, it’s for a different kind of reason.
I don’t have quite the same problem with children and teens being exposed to books that have sexual subject matter, when it is presented at a level that is appropriate.
I’m really interested in the fact that people have such different ideas about what is appropriate for kids.
DK: “[W]hen it is presented at a level that is appropriate.” Bingo!
RL: People clearly disagree about what is appropriate. Right?
So I’m interested in why you are so concerned about this, why you have made this issue the focus of your life, where others are less concerned or have much more liberal ideas about what is appropriate.
DK: The issue is NOT what is appropriate. The issue is how and why the OIF misleads local communities on a number of issues, and as a result people are being harmed in a manner that would not have occurred but for the OIF’s intervention.
RL: The fact that your child was exposed to Mangaboom doesn’t seem like a complete explanation, because many parents saw that book and didn’t worry about the way you did. For you it was an outrage that your child would be exposed to it at school. Right?
DK: No. At first it was surprise. I brought it to the principal. She said it was twice what I reported. She removed it. Not me. I did not ask her to do that. That is what started me on this issue. Similar incidents is what starts other people similarly.
Was I outraged later, after learning it was a book recommended by the ALA? Perhaps, depending on the meaning of outrage.
RL: What I’m trying to get at is the fact that you are especially sensitive to the problem of children being exposed to sexually oriented materials. I doubt that Mangaboom has been removed from most school libraries, because most parents don’t have a problem with it. You may have an insight into the effects of exposure to sex-related material on children that most people lack. I don’t know. But I can’t let it go without remarking on it that you are very sensitive to this issue, and that your campaign, your life’s work, is based on this concern you have. At the same time, developmental psychologists are hardly at the forefront of your campaign; on the contrary, they are often authors or advisors to authors of books for young people that address sexual subjects.
So I wonder, how do you define what is appropriate?
DK: What I define as appropriate is irrelevant, except as it pertains to my own local issues. As I said before regarding Push, even the ALA has divergent views on what is appropriate.
Now If I seem unusually sensitive to the issue, that is simply because it became clear to me that children hurt by the ALA cannot fight back themselves and are not even aware of the problem. As a result, the negative effects of the OIF spread without so much as a whimper. So I am standing up for the most innocent in our society. I don’t see a problem in that. I am asking why it has to be this way that the OIF acts the way it does. It doesn’t. And I’m doing something about it. And I am showing others what they can do about it. But the first step is to become aware that it is even an issue in the first place.
RL: It is an issue to you, that is clear. But to take the case of Mangaboom, which is the book that you say got you started, I think most parents would not see an issue. So do you think most parents don’t understand something about kids that you understand?
Sorry, I can see that that is an unfair question.
Clearly, as you see it, ALA is out-of-step with most parents. Is that right?
DK: No. Again that is not the issue. I am not the issue. I have no special “insight into the effects of exposure to sex-related material on children that most people lack.”
I simply saw something wrong in some out of state organization pushing material on my child that the principal removed from the library for being inappropriate. Then I simply acted on that. Had the OIF not acted in a manner that put that book in my child’s hands, we would not even be having this conversation. I am not the issue. The OIF is.
Ah! After I answered that I see you added a few sentences. So yes, it is the ALA, really the OIF, that is out of step, and I can link to a number of librarians saying exactly that.
Dean Marney, for example, talks about ALA “dogma.” http://tinyurl.com/ALADogma
RL: So, that would prove that they are out of step with a number of librarians. It can be really hard to know what the majority of Americans think, even with well-designed polls. But let’s say that ALA had not been involved and these books had ended up in the library, what then? It seems likely enough, given that publishers, reviewers, authors, and parents who buy the book support them in the marketplace.
What would be the focus of your campaign then?
DK: “It can be really hard to know what the majority of Americans think, even with well-designed polls.”
Well, the OIF says anything goes in public schools.
In contrast, a recent Harris Poll says the exact opposite: “Most Oppose Explicit Books in Public Schools Says Harris Poll” http://tinyurl.com/MostOpposeExplicitBooks
That’s pretty clear evidence the OIF is out of step with the public.
If the OIF were not involved, and this were happening merely as a matter of market forces, then I would not have the concerns I do now. SafeLibraries addresses the OIF, not market forces.
RL: Again, at issue is the definition of what is explicit, what is appropriate or not. The Harris Poll might not apply to many of the books you object to, like Mangaboom for example. And unfortunately it does seem to be very difficult to discuss where the lines should be drawn, and for what developmental reasons.
Ok, thanks for your explanation regarding market forces.
This interview has gotten to be long, and I’m not sure there is more ground that we are going to be successful in covering.
DK: That may be your issue, namely the definition of appropriate reading material, but it is not mine. You see, that decision gets to be made by local communities, not by me.
I address the OIF and the harm it may be doing in local communities. Like the library employees being harassed in Birmingham, AL. Like the toddler raped in a public library bathroom in Des Moines, IA, as a result of ALA policy, something that did not come to light until I got directly involved. Please consider asking me questions along those lines.
Okay, then thank you for this opportunity to speak with you on these important issues. I will be happy to speak with you again in the future. And hello to Library Juice readers!
RL: Thanks very much, Dan! I think this was an enlightening interview.
DK: Yes, thank you.
Some of my colleagues in the Progressive Librarians Guild used to complain that Banned Books Week was an unfortunate distraction from the greater problem of a propagandistic media system. I shared that view and still do, but it is not the objection that I want to explain today.
My problem with Banned Books Week is one that is probably shared by some conservatives, and it has to do with the loose definition of what a “banned book” is, and what a “challenged book” is. Over time, as I have come to understand my own politics better, I have realized that what I care about is rational discourse as the basis for a democratic society. In rational discourse, as I see it, it is important to be clear about what you are actually saying, to ask critical questions with a patience for detail, and to reject strategic communication and to minimize rhetoric. The Banned Books Week project, well-intended as it may be, is a propaganda exercise that fails to model good standards for democratic communication.
Here is what I mean.
The history of book banning is a history of inspiring stories, stories of mass suppression of ideas, copies of books collected so that they can be burned, publishers incarcerated, often ultimately to no avail as the power of an idea proved greater than the power of the state or of a fascistic party. Book banning, good people agree, should be fought against, and is a source of inspiration to fight for what is right. Banned Books Week taps into people’s response to these historical narratives and aims to prevent the suppression of ideas from recurring. A noble intention and a narrative resource.
The problem that I see with Banned Books Week is that what counts as a “banned book” is actually a “challenged book,” and what counts as a challenged book is something quite different from an effort to prevent a book from being published, sold, or even made available in a library. Most of the cases of challenged books that are reported as a part of Banned Books Week are cases where a parent of a child objects to a book being a part of their child’s school curriculum, or at other times in the school’s library, on the grounds of “age appropriateness.” Defenders of intellectual freedom, to my dismay, have an unwritten policy of never addressing the question of age appropriateness, leaving it as an unstated assumption that anything selected for the curriculum by educators as opposed to by parents is automatically age-appropriate, as though educators are incapable of error.
School districts have policies in place for reviewing challenges to books on the basis of age-appropriateness. Challenged books are reviewed and evaluated by committees that are charged with that responsibility, and then the school district makes an official decision regarding the book. Regardless of what the school’s decision turns out to be, regardless of its reasonableness or unreasonableness, and regardless of the objectivity or bias within the decision-making process in a specific case, all challenges to a book by a parent get counted as an attempt at book banning.
Personally, I agree with intellectual freedom orthodoxy that says that one family should not have the right to determine what other students are taught, and this is part of what public education is. But when a book is challenged and reviewed on the grounds of age-appropriateness, it is ultimately not the family that brought the challenge that makes the decision. The decision is made by the educational institution itself. We can hope that more often than not these decisions are well-informed and based more on educational psychology than they are on pressure from an ideological community group. They may not always be. But the decision about whether a book should remain a part of the curriculum or not is ultimately made by the public institution that put the book in the curriculum in the first place, which means that book challenges happen as a part of a process that the institution puts in place in order to get feedback from the community on the curriculum. (In some other areas, we on the left are fighting for more opportunities to influence local policies to meet local needs.)
What I want to emphasize about this is that the “book banning” that is the subject of Banned Books Week is not book banning as we understand it historically but part of the cultural fight over the school curriculum. Now, I am prepared to fight hard to keep rationality and science and humanism in the school curriculum, against the theocrats who seem to be making incredible progress in rolling back not only 20th century liberalism but the values behind the Constitution itself (i.e. secular democracy). But in fighting that fight over the curriculum, what I am ultimately fighting for is rational discourse as opposed to irrationality. If I give up basic standards of rational discourse and resort to strategic communication and propaganda… well, as we said about Al Qaida during the debate over the PATRIOT Act: “They have won.”